“Neil and I met in the Spring of 2009. We both have daughters the same age (5 months apart to be exact) from previous relationships. Chloe, who is Neil’s daughter, and Gabrielle, who is mine. I have Tourette Syndrome, OCD, and generalized anxiety. I never imagined a man like Neil could love a girl like me. With 12 years of age difference, we’ve seen our fair share of arguments. His being set in his ways, and my still being young and immature. He is an atheist, while I am a Christian so you can imagine we had some pretty heated debates in our home. He told me he would never get married again after already going through it and I tried to tell myself I was ok with it. He is such a wonderful man, father, and father figure to my daughter. Fast forward to 2014, we get engaged! I was totally not expecting it and was so thrilled and over the moon. Still, things weren’t perfect but we kept moving right along. Co-parenting with Neil’s ex-wife Alicia, and raising our girls. You see, we don’t have what you would consider a ‘typical’ co-parenting relationship with Alicia. She is a good friend of mine. She loves my daughter as her own. She even lived with Neil and I for a brief period. It was funny to see people’s reaction to our family dynamic. We may not always agree 100% on everything, but the three of us work together, and put our girls first…as it should be.
We were in the midst of an almost engagement-ending argument. My parents never believed Neil had the best of intentions with their daughter, even though he was our provider and head of our household. Neil felt I didn’t have his and Chloe’s back, and he was right. I’d rather keep the peace with my parents then stand up for our family. Crazy, right? Little did I realize the amount of stress and the toll it was taking on him. I just wanted to ignore everything.
Neil hadn’t been feeling well for a few weeks. First a case of the flu, then what we thought would be walking pneumonia. Little did we know the journey was about to begin. Neil had gone to the walk-in clinic, had some chest x-rays done, got some cough medicine, and came home. Only, after a couple of months he wasn’t feeling any better. Short of breath, a dry cough, tired, and just feeling completely out of wack. Friday, April 24th, 2015 he goes back to the walk-in clinic, and has more chest x-rays. This time he is diagnosed with something we never imagined. Congestive heart failure. He had fluid all around his heart. The first doctor missed it, thankfully the second time around it was caught. He was told he needed to go to the hospital to get admitted. Not thinking much of it, he asked if he could go home and head to the hospital the next morning. ‘No, you need to go right now.’ The doctor tells him. He calls me and gives me the update…mind you, we still really aren’t talking to each other. At that point, I felt like I was in a dream. I called my parents whom I had distanced myself from to let them know what was going on. My mom is an RN, and formerly worked for one of the top cardiologists in our town, so she had an understanding of what was going on.
He was in the hospital over the weekend. The girls and myself hung out with him and made the best of it. My parents came to visit, and since Alicia works at that very same hospital, she would pop in and out to check on us. That Monday, Neil underwent an angiogram, the test to see how much blockage he potentially had in his arteries. Alicia and I sat, waited, and prayed for good news. At the most, he’d need a stent or two. Or so we thought. He was so blocked, that getting stents was not an option. He would have to be transported to another hospital and have open heart surgery. At that point, my world was spinning. How is this possible? Neil ate well, worked out, quit smoking (after 20 years). What had he done wrong to deserve this? I walked into the waiting room, and called his brother, Steve, bawling. What was I going to do? How would we pay for this? We have two little girls! Like a blessing from above, Steve’s wife drove down 5 hours to be with me. Steve had to finish up working and came down the next day.
April 28th, 2015 I was talking with Steve and his wife, and I told them that I didn’t want Neil to go through surgery and not be married. But what could we do? Once again I wondered how in the world we would pay for such a major surgery. We both have good jobs, but hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses? I had insurance through my job, but since Neil owns his own business, he didn’t have any. Private insurance is extremely costly. Would his condition be considered pre-existing? Even if we got married, would it be covered? I am glad to be a part of my company and our insurance. They would come through for us. One of my biggest worries would be taken care of.
It was the day before scheduled surgery. I managed to get our marriage license even though he was in the hospital. We needed to find a minster, but couldn’t. At that point, I’d given up and focused on keeping Neil relaxed. That afternoon, my mom and Neil had ‘the’ conversation. They talked out their issues. I wasn’t there for it, but I could hear them talking…loudly at one point. I was worried he would have a heart attack there on the spot. But when I walked in, they were smiling, and it seems like this long awaited talk went well. At 8:00 pm, Steve calls me and tells me they found a minister, and that he was on his way! Neil and I were married around 8:30 pm with just us, the minister, and two nurses. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect ceremony. I would do it over 10 times if I could!
Neil was prepped and brought into surgery first thing the very next day. I didn’t understand at the time just how weak his heart really was. He had to be put on a bypass pump just so he receives the anesthesia because his weak heart was not pumping blood properly…not normal protocol. After surgery, the surgeon told us his heart was very, very sick. It didn’t hit me until I saw him in ICU, just laying there with tubes everywhere, and machines beeping. I broke down. My superhero, my best friend, my strong husband was just laying there looking practically dead. Neil had four clogged arteries, two were 99% blocked and one was 70% blocked. The other would have to be stented at a later time. There were a couple of times he’d suffered mini heart attacks. He didn’t realize it at the time…playing golf. His heart was practically a ticking time bomb. Thankfully, he was released and made a full recovery. Of course in June of 2015, we had one last item to complete. The cardiologist put a stent in the last of his blocked arteries.
Neil’s recovery was not an easy one. All he could do was sit and heal. We moved our recliner into our bedroom and he slept in it for the next 3 months. My strong man, who could do anything, was reduced to relying on me for everything. It broke my heart. We received gift baskets, get well cards, and monetary gifts. We couldn’t express our gratitude enough. He went back to work after a couple of months with the help of his nephew. Our family and friends were our saving grace. We learned to rely on others, that it was ok to get help and accept it.
That December, we had another health scare. Neil was feeling an indescribable pain in his abdomen. Gut wrenching, fall to the floor, pain. My anxiety shot through the roof. Again, God? Really? He went to our family doctor, met with a surgeon, and underwent some tests. His gallbladder was full of sludge. We were sent home from the surgeon’s office with pain medicine and a surgery date. This surgery was much less invasive, and the recovery was way easier.
I am beyond grateful he has made a full recovery. Back to work and living his best life. On April 30th, 2016 we had a wedding celebration with our closest friends and family. It was beautiful. It was a blast. An afternoon of dancing and good food. This year we will celebrate being together for ten years, our fourth wedding anniversary, and Neil’s four year ‘heartiversary’ as I love to call it. We have both learned life lessons from this incredibly scary experience. Neil has learned to live life to the fullest, to not hold on to grudges, forgive and move on. I’ve learned to stand up for my husband, and that it’s the small things that matter. Although, honestly, I still have a lot of work to do in that department. Neil regrets not fixing his relationship with my parents sooner. But today, we can gladly say that their relationship is awesome. There is a mutual love and respect between them. To us, family and friends are everything. Without them, this journey would have been much more difficult. I don’t know why we are each given different trials to face, but I know that how we handle them can shape us.”
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